On my first day at Makerere, I found myself restless and bored. No matter how much I fingered my phone, I just could not shake off my loneliness. So, I decided to call a friend and ask if I could visit. Friend had moved into Olympia Hostel only that afternoon and was craving a bit of company as well. So, I made my way there.
Back then, Olympia was grand, especially when you slept in a hall of residence like me. When you got within its vicinity, you whistled. So, while I whistled, I was rudely interrupted by a hulking man clad in a security uniform. He asked for the name of the person I had come to see and in which room they resided. He also demanded to see my university ID which he threw in a plastic box (it’s always a plastic box).
The lad gave me permission to get in, only if I pledged to be out by 11pm (or was it 10?). I gave him my word that I would. While I moved away from the little house into the grandeur that lay before me, hulking lad coughed. Deciding that his act of coughing was in no way directed to me, I walked on.
“First wait, boss, ” he called out. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?” he added while walking up to me.
I indicated that I had merely heard him cough and that surely the coughing could not have meant that he had wanted to have a word with me.
Hulking Lad laughed nervously and leaned close to my ear. Back then we did not have Covid-19, so I guess that was fine.
“How are you leaving me, my boss?” he finally spoke. I must admit, I have never been more confused. I drew up thousands of formulas in my head to understand what exactly Hulking Lad meant but I could not come to any satisfactory answer. So I inquired what exactly he meant by his question.
Hulking Lad was starting to grow irritated. So, he leaned in once more and told me: “Boss, some soda”. Still, I did not quite understand what soda he wanted so I promised that I would give him on my way out.
I did manage to meet friend but the whole entire time I was there, I thought long and hard about the brand of soda that Hulking Lad preferred. I settled for Coca Cola. On my out, I branched to the hostel restaurant and ordered for one which I handed to Hulking Lad while I signed out.
Hulking Lad looked unamused, probably because he wanted a Fanta or something but he might have let me go merely because he didn’t want to come off as ungrateful.
The Covid-19 pandemic has crippled life as we know it. So, it was that as the twilight drew nearer one day, I made my way to Forest Mall. At the entrance, I greeted a tough muscled security guard who proceeded to check for my temperature. After reading the temperature findings to me, Tough Muscled Security Guard proceeded to tell me, “Boss, I am not feeling well”. Worried that his illness could be worse than he cared to admit, I told him to find time to go to a hospital. I hope the poor lad got better.
I learnt much later that soda meant money and that it is some form of tip. Other times it is used within the context of a bribe. Take for example, the ongoing northern bypass construction. I happen to stay in an area that has been totally closed off to enable works go on smoothly. Ideally, we should be allowed access to our homes through the only access route open but we are always asked to give the askaris some water or soda.
At this point, I might have to resort to my old ways. I will buy a whole carton of water and crate of soda. Whenever I am stopped, I will just sigh and ask the askari what their preference is. In case certain brands are done, I get to narrow down their choice. I hope these ones will not be as ungrateful as Hulking Lad was.